(Of the many stories I’ve written over the years, some are personal. This is one of those stories. I hope readers will indulge me as I share a story I’ve been carrying in my mind for many years.)
Evert Seal didn’t really have a chance.
Seal wanted to be a racer, and he accomplished that goal. However, in just his fourth time in a race car, Evert suffered a serious head injury in a crash at Winchester Speedway and was killed.
Think about that for a moment: A kid spends most of his formative years wanting to race, and finally gets a chance. Then, just four races into his career, it ends in a flash of tragedy.
That was 40 years ago, and Evert’s story has rattled around in my mind for years. There are so many unanswered questions, there’s so much to wonder about, and there’s so much heartache to reflect upon.
Perkinsville, Ind., is a sleepy little town where nothing much ever happens. Aside from an occasional car passing by on Hwy. 13, the only movement on a summer day is the slow, steady flow of the White River which abuts the town, cottonwood seeds dotting the smooth surface.
Evert grew up near Perkinsville, and so did I. Evert and his pals played on the south side of the river; me and my pals played on the north side of the river.
There wasn’t much to do in Perkinsville for a kid, and a highlight was shaking the screen door at Chuck Bonge’s beer joint – a bell would ring when you jostled the door – and Chuck or Margaret would sell you a bottle of pop and a candy bar.
Evert and I were separated by a couple of years, but that’s about it. At a small school such as ours – Jackson Township School and eventually Frankton High School – you knew everybody.
Evert was a quiet and friendly kid, a boy who didn’t make trouble for anybody. He lived just a stone’s throw from the pond where everybody went ice skating in the winter, on 8th Street Road.
Despite the boring and endless summer days out in the sticks, Evert’s life was infused with excitement, the type of excitement you can easily understand: racing. To be more specific, sprint car and midget racing.
Evert’s uncle was Dick Etchison, who raced with IMCA in the 1960s until a serious highway crash ended his driving career.
After his accident Dick worked as a racing mechanic, and one of his jobs was wrenching Sid Weinberger’s sprint car on the IMCA circuit and throughout the Midwest.
Dick was a colorful, larger-than-life guy who had some racing stories. I mean, stories. When you spend years on the road with guys like Buzz Barton, Pete Folse and Johnny White, you have stories to tell for the rest of your life.
Etchison eventually married Dorothy and settled in a house on 8th Street Road a couple of miles east of Perkinsville. The family was tight-knit, with Evert’s family and several brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins living nearby. Evert had an additional racing connection, as well: another uncle, Ben Seal, dabbled with a sprint car in the 1960s.
Dick Etchison was hopelessly in love with racing and, although he maintained a fulltime job with a paving outfit, he never stopped messing around with race cars.
In the late 1960s he began building racing parts and pieces in a small shop outside his home, eventually branding the company as DECO.
“Dad came up with the idea of a weight checker in the early ‘70s, this was before anybody built a digital scale,” said Rick Etchison, Evert’s first cousin. “That weight checker just took off, and we built a ton of those things, shipping them all over the world. Later on, he came up with a coil spring rater, and we built a lot of those, too.
“Every kid in the neighborhood worked in our shop at one time or another. A lot of drilling holes and painting. Evert was maybe 15 years old when he started working there. I was a few years younger, just old enough to sweep the floors.”
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